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Will studying biology or accepting its rightful conclusions ruin my faith?

Part One: A Christian view of how one might approach the faithful resolution of truth from our shared faith and our growing understanding of our world

Even in this new millennium a large number of university students find little support in their home church, family or community for dealing with the intellectual challenges to their faith that they will encounter in the modern, secular university.

Worse, those in Bible schools and Christian colleges will often still find reactionary curricula that want to explain away, debunk or simply ignore established evidence gained by the last hundred years of recognized scholarship.

As a long time Christian, and an experimental biologist with more than thirty years research and teaching experience in a major secular university, it saddens me to have to acknowledge the truth of the sentences that I have just written. After all, all truth is from God, so we are most content when the truths we know, regardless of their source, fit together to form a consistent whole.

So, these thoughts are presented as one scientific Christian’s view of how one might approach the exciting journey toward a faithful resolution of truths from our shared faith and from our growing understanding of our world.

Expanding our view of God

A major result of recent advances in science and other scholarship is to encourage many believers to enlarge their views of God, sometimes appearing to come into conflict with traditional views.

Tradition is, of course, very important, and we must make progress together with a clear understanding of what our spiritual ancestors believed, and to the fullest extent possible, why they believed it and why they expressed their beliefs as they did.

Yet, like us, they were fallible, and adjustments to human thinking will always be necessary. We really do want to have the living faith of the dead, and to avoid having the dead faith of the living.

Expanding our view of creation

Coincident with an expanded view of God, I believe that we need a greatly expanded view of creation. The impetus for this comes from both scientific advances and advances in biblical scholarship and theological thinking.

Creation is a very dynamic affair. The nineteenth century's view that much was static and set that perfect types existed and that humanity has diverged from some perfect point in the past, have been effectively challenged by twentieth century science and theology.

Science has moved on to recognize the dynamism inherent in material creation, while important parts of the church have often resisted, on the grounds of some version of biblical inerrancy, and an incorrigible theology.

For many Christians then, after more than one hundred years of resistance, there is a seemingly huge gap between the foundational tenants of their faith and the generally accepted facts of science.

One aspect that often seems to be missing is the idea of unfolding – that is, the dynamism of what God has made possible and continues to make possible. For a biblical orientation, we should consider the resurrection of our Lord to be the most perfect creation event revealed in Scripture.

Beside that unique act of God, the rest of material reality is simply good and very good, and it is the product of a long unfolding. If we want to move seamlessly from truth as determined by scientific observation of the material world to truth as revealed in Scripture, we must get rid of the static, fixed views that so often pervade discussions of this sort.

Recognizing the dynamism within Scripture

An orthodox Christian understanding of Scripture should see dynamism, change, growth, and evolution everywhere. It begins, for Christians, with a relationship. This relationship is not a single event, it is a process, a daily dying that Christ might live in us to remake us into the person he always intended.

Working backwards, Israel’s relationship with its God is a very long process – a rocky evolution. Moving back still further, creation is not a single event, it is a process – for life, a 3.7 billion year process.

From this perspective we can move seamlessly from scriptural revelation to biological, geological and chemical facts, for our best science agrees that all we know in a material way is the result of a process – a process that continues.

It is most helpful to think process, unfolding, and, for believers, to add a loving creator who makes all this process possible and sustains it. This includes, of course, the unfolding of the material world and the unfolding of our relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit.

An incarnate God within creation

We serve a very active God. He is doing great things. They are all related, and all truth is his. He has made, is making and will continue to make it all possible. And, we do not need to point to specific places along the way where he intervened – all of it is his idea.

Nor do we need to think of God as ontologically included in this process, that, along with creation, God is somehow becoming more developed, perhaps more fully godlike, as process theology seems to say.

We do, however, have to envision a God who cares. A God who suffers when we suffer, a God who does not always get his way because in making everything possible, he also made and continues to make freedom possible.

His acts of making possible include allowing creation to be and to become, including allowing sentient beings to say 'no' to him, to rebel against him, to ignore him, to conclude that he does not even exist.

As believers, our challenge is to look to his Spirit for the faith to believe that his perfect love is so completely efficacious that his will will ultimately prevail.

In Part two, I will develop a bit further how we might think about expanding our view of creation and the Creator, and think about the whole matter in more dynamic terms. I will also try to offer practical ways to do this.

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Dr. Bev Mitchell is a retired experimental biologist, university teacher and administrator. He is an informal student of theology and is especially interested in participating in discussions that might help Christians who want to find more harmony between their faith and the complex world of biology. He is a regular commenter and occasional contributor on several Christian blogs.

About the author